'Isolation will rise' warns chaplain

By Marcus Dysch, March 8, 2012

Students at universities with small Jewish populations could become increasingly isolated in the coming year, a chaplain has warned.

Reverend Malcolm Weisman fears the increased student fees which come into effect in September will mean more teenagers choose to stay at home to study, reducing the size of Jewish communities at campuses around the country.

Rev Weisman works to assist Jews at more than a dozen universities, organising Shabbat events, helping to provide kosher provisions and increasing collaboration between Jewish societies.

He said Jewish exchange students and those moving to Britain from abroad to study could suffer the most.

Together with Rabbi Zalman Lewis, who covers south-east universities for Chabad, Rev Weisman ran a Shabbaton for students at Canterbury last month.

More has to be done to help isolated students

The weekend included a service at the defunct Canterbury Synagogue in the shadow of the city's famous cathedral. It is thought that the Shabbat morning service was the first to be held in the shul since it closed in 1931.

Around 25 students participated, including a number from Gibraltar who had not previously attended Jewish events on campus. One student subsequently joined the JSoc after two years of not taking part in Jewish life at the university.

A similar weekend at Lancaster University attracted around 30 students. They were joined by members of Jewish communities in the Lake District as well as Muslim students from the campus.

Rev Weisman said the event had been an excellent way to promote interfaith relations on the campus. He also spoke at an Islam Week event at Essex University following an invitation from the Islamic Society.

It is important, Rev Weisman said, to reach out to as many students as possible: "The common denominator is that many of these students are on the fringe of the Jewish community. There is great demand from students; my diary is booked up until the middle of 2013.

"It is not easy work. It is a labour of love. We need more people in the field to help us. If we co-ordinate well we can cover all Jewish denominations."

Rev Weisman said he meets many students from Orthodox backgrounds who, having moved to a university in order to take a course not available elsewhere, find themselves in an area with few fellow Jewish students.

"I think more has to be done for students on these campuses," he said. "In Lancaster, we encourage them to go to Manchester for a weekend and spend time with the community there.

"I work across the spectrum from Orthodox through Reform, Liberal and Masorti. Some of the students I meet have never been to a synagogue or had any Jewish education, but they want to be involved."

Last updated: 11:36am, March 8 2012